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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

An exercise in enlightenment

As part of Asia Week 2017, the Carolina Asia Center hosted a special guest whose work offered a window into Tibetan culture. Geshe Palden Sangpo, a monk who practices Tibetan Buddhism, spent nearly four days at the FedEx Global Education Center creating a sand mandala, an ancient Tibetan Buddhist art form. 

At the end of the week, Sangpo disassembled the mandala during a special ceremony. He gathered the marble and then returned it to nature.

Sangpo was born in 1972 in Kham Karze, eastern Tibet, and left home at the age of 12, crossing the Himalayan mountains on foot to study in southern India. He graduated as one of the youngest people ever to receive a Geshe degree. In 2008, Sangpo moved to Raleigh, where he teaches several classes and provides guidance on ritual practice at the Kadampa Center for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition.

Sangpo answered questions about his work and what he hopes the Carolina community learned from the temporary display.

 What is a sand mandala and what is its purpose?

A sand mandala is an ancient, sacred Tibetan Buddhist art form, which represents a perfect universe. The geometric patterns and colors represent a map to transform the ordinary human mind into an
enlightened mind.

What is special or different about this piece?

There are different kinds of sand mandalas and I created the Green Tara sand mandala for compassion and peace. Green Tara represents an enlightened being who has attained the highest wisdom and compassion. She helps to remove the obstacles to achieve these goals when you have set the correct intentions.

How much sand is used in this piece?

While it is called a sand mandala, it is made out of crushed marble. The marble is dyed into different colors. The colors represent different elements of the universe – such as earth, water, fire, air and sky – and good qualities – such as wisdom, equanimity, compassion, non-attachment, good karma, awareness and so on. For this piece, we should use approximately three pounds [of crushed marble].

How much time does it take to make a sand mandala?

For this sand mandala, it will take about three to four days. However, it could vary from three days to 10 days depending on the type of mandalas being created and who creates them.

What do you hope the Carolina community learns/takes from this piece?

It is hoped that the sand mandala is a reminder that it is important to set positive intentions and to focus and direct your energies each moment toward one’s noble goals. In this way, one can overcome obstacles and achieve good things.